Commercial Drive businesses are not budging from their opposition to what they fear is a city fixation on a concrete-barrier bike lane, wielding polls and phone calls and meetings to try to stop the city’s plans.
Although city engineers and councillors say the lane plans aren’t decided yet and there are lots of options, the businesses say they don’t want any kind of lane that would affect parking along a street famous for its small shops and busy street life.
And the lane continues to generate a muddled reaction among others on the Drive, from cyclists who don’t seem to be that passionate about it, to residents who debate it regularly.
“Commercial Drive is the last place that needs a bike lane,” said Torsten Muller. The cyclist rides to his job at Black Dog Video. He said the Drive is just too narrow to support a bike lane. He thinks it may make things more dangerous for cyclists, because it would put a strain on the already crowded streets.
Vancouver has designated Commercial Drive as one of several routes where it wants to establish bike lanes next, in its effort to encourage more cycling in the city.
According to the Transportation 2040 Plan, which was approved by city council on Oct. 31, “The Commercial Drive corridor serves an area with some of the highest existing and potential bicycle ridership.”
“It already has a lot of trips being made by bike. So we want to grow that that is part of the strategy,” said Coun. Geoff Meggs. “It’s an overall strategic decision by the city to make sure the additional trips that we get in the future are by sustainable means which is transit, walking, or cycling.”
Cycling accounts for 12 per cent of all traffic in Commercial Drive, making it one of the highest cycling areas in Vancouver, in contrast to the citywide average of four per cent.
There are supporters for a cycling lane on Commercial.
Dylan Sawatzky works as a supervisor at Bikes on the Drive. He’s comfortable riding along the Drive himself, but for others “the Drive is one of the most intimidating places to ride a bike, because it’s not as slow as downtown.”
There are often cars parked on either side of the street, so traffic, pedestrians and bicycles vie for space often dodging and weaving to move.
“On the Drive, it seems like we have our own set of rules here. There are people pulling U-turns all the time. There is all sorts of strange stuff going on. For that reason, a bike lane would be very beneficial, just to have a little bit more of a rule in place,” said Sawatzky.
Meggs agrees with that, dismissing the suggestion some have made that cyclists should be moved over to Victoria Drive two blocks east.
“I’ve ridden on the Drive and it’s not great. It’s a very tight street. So to say to cyclists, you want to go to the Drive but you should stay on Victoria Drive, is not what we would say to drivers. So we need to find solutions,” said Meggs.
But even a supporter like Sawatzky isn’t sure there should be a bike lane with a concrete barrier, similar to those on Hornby and Dunsmuir streets downtown.
“There are definitely problems with the separated bike lane, especially in a commercial district, just because it’s going to be very difficult for cars to access parking spots,” he said. “For a place like Commercial, I think just a painted bike lane would be fine.”
Separated lanes require a physical barrier that shields riders from vehicles, which means they also require more street width than a painted lane. If there were a separated bike lane on Commercial Drive, it could mean removing some of the parking on the east side of the street.
That’s the sorest point in the whole debate, according to a recent poll by the Commercial Drive Business Society. It found over 75 per cent of their members said they were opposed.
Meggs said he understands that parking is important for businesses. But there are also other considerations.
“There are some businesses that rely on parking – no question. And there is no plan by the city to remove anything more than is absolutely necessary for the overall benefit of the transportation plan,” said Meggs.
Carmen D’Onofrio, the president of the Commercial Drive Business Society, says owners will continue working with the City of Vancouver to help adopt a transportation plan that will work for everyone.
“Ultimately they have the final decision,” said D’Onofrio. But he maintained that there is strong opposition in the community and he hopes the city will remember that.
City engineers say they will.
“A full public consultation process that includes extensive outreach with local businesses and residents will get underway,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, head of engineering for the City of Vancouver. He said no decisions have been made yet and there is still time.
The Drive bike lane won’t officially enter the planning phase until after the Cornwall and Point Grey route is settled, likely not until fall 2013.
Click here for an interactive feature, mapping the potential Commercial Drive bike lane.